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The 92-year-old Irishwoman in Pakistan: ‘I would love to come home one last time’

‘It’s such a vast world, but you will find a friendly Irish face in every single one of those corners,’ says Sally Teehan, who loves the vibrancy of Pakistan, but still thinks about Ireland every day

I was born in Borrisokane, Co Tipperary, and in those days the furthest you were ever likely to go was to Nenagh.

But I always knew I wanted to see the world.

When I was 16 my mother gave in to my badgering, and helped me to book a passage over to London.

I loved London immediately. I met my first husband, a Pakistani law student, and we had two children. When the children were young, he wanted to set up a barristers’ chambers in Karachi. He tried to persuade me to return with him, but I wasn’t ready to move to the other side of the world, so we split up and I focused my energy on raising my children.


Finally, in 1972, I desperately needed a change and my thoughts turned to Pakistan.

I began to wonder whether perhaps the move had always been written in the stars. The 1950s were not the right time, but perhaps now it was?

I had visited Pakistan before, when I had accompanied my young children to meet their family, and I had never seen anything like it. The weather, the colour, the vibrancy, the friendliness of the people. I decided it was just the tonic I needed.

As soon as I arrived in Karachi, I immediately loved just how different everything was. It was a world away from Borrisokane.

Karachi was going through troubled times in the 1970s, and there was a military curfew in place. One day there was a knock on my door and there were two army officers standing there to ask whether I would like a curfew pass. For one of the officers and me it was love at first sight. He came back the next day to ask how I was, and the rest is history.

We got married shortly after. My children had flown the nest by then, so my border collie, Prince, who had accompanied me from London, and I were able to follow my husband to his barracks in Quetta in Baluchistan. I soon fell into life as a military wife, and I spent my days teaching English to local children and writing poetry.

In 1981, my husband was posted to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, so we packed up and moved. It was an interesting few years, and I am glad of the experience, but I was delighted when it was time to return to Pakistan.

When we returned in 1985 my husband was promoted to the rank of colonel and became the commanding officer of a battalion. He was posted close to the Afghan border, to a place called Parachinar, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Soviet-Afghan war was still going strong, and my husband’s battalion was close to the thick of it. I once accompanied him on a trip to a mountain pass in the Hindu Kush range, known locally as Bhiwar Kotal. The battalion had a mission post there and, as commanding officer, my husband needed to liaise with his observers.

News that the commanding officer and his western wife were at the base spread rapidly, and before long the brother of, and second in command to, Gulbadin Hikmat Yaar, the local mujahedeen commander, appeared. He had crossed the border and was anxious to greet us. He walked up to me, and my husband translated. He thought I was American and asked me to send a message to the US president that they needed more weaponry. I nodded politely. I don’t think he would have known where Ireland was had I tried to explain.

Wherever I have travelled, I have always come across fellow Irishmen and women.

When my husband was briefly posted to a garrison in the Punjab, an Irish priest working in the area heard rumours of an Irish woman living close by. He tracked me down and came around to introduce himself. When we started talking you could have knocked me down with a feather. His name was Fr Flynn and he was from none other than Borrisokane!

Ireland is my home, and I still think of it every day. It made me who I am

He was younger than me, so we had not known each other back home, but our families were well acquainted. It’s such a vast world, but I guarantee you, you will find a friendly Irish face in every single one of those corners.

In the 1990s Ireland started to call to me, and I bought a little cottage in Borrisokane. I enjoyed reconnecting with home, but my life was now most definitely in Pakistan.

I now live just outside Islamabad with my husband and our old batman. I’m too old to travel, but, if I could, I would love to come home one last time. I hadn’t realised when I was there the last time, 10 years ago, that that would be the very last time I would walk on Irish soil.

Ireland is my home, and I still think of it every day. It made me who I am. What gives me comfort is that my family have found their way back. My son moved home about 30 years ago and lives in Co Mayo. My only granddaughter, my daughter’s daughter, Mari, who is helping me write this piece, moved over last year.

I like to think, even though my family were all brought up in London, that Ireland has called them back home for me.

  • Sally Teehan left Tipperary in the early 1950s. She moved to England, returned to Ireland in the 1960s, and then moved to Pakistan in 1972. After that, she lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, returned home to Tipperary for much of the 1990s, before returning to Pakistan for good. She is now 92. Her only granddaughter, her daughter’s daughter, Mari Gabol, who helped Sally write this piece, moved to Gorey, Co Wexford, last year, but moved back to London temporarily because of “the housing situation”. Mari hopes to return to Ireland in a few months.
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